With just four periods left to go on their road trip, the Sharks were in pretty optimal shape. They had already won three of their first four games, and were sitting in the visiting dressing room in Pittsburgh in the second intermission with a 2-0 lead after their best period of the young season.
That’s when it came undone.
The Penguins reeled off three straight third period goals to shock San Jose on Thursday night, and the Sharks concluded their trip by getting spanked by the Red Wings in a game that they were never really in on Saturday.
Still, it’s nothing to get alarmed about, and it was all too predictable that the Sharks might fade towards the end of the journey.
This year’s training camp, combined with a difficult road stretch so early in the season, has provided the kinds of hardships that aren’t typical in a normal season. The Sharks had a league-high five players in the World Cup of Hockey, including four on Team Canada and newcomer Mikkel Boedker on Team Europe. Those players didn’t even step on the practice ice in San Jose until Oct. 4, one week before the opener, and Logan Couture, Brent Burns, Joe Thornton, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Joe Pavelski all played in just a single preseason game.
The Sharks got to open at home on Oct. 12, and played well in beating the Kings, 2-1. They’ve held just one full practice since then on Oct. 13, before getting on a plane to Columbus the next day to begin a stretch of five games in eight days while trying to adjust to the three-hour time change.
Head coach Pete DeBoer knows he has some work to do with his group, but he subtlety pointed out that conditions have made things a bit more complicated than usual. He’s right. In fact, before the Sharks lost to the Red Wings, DeBoer was content with the way the Sharks had performed to that point.
“Considering the circumstances, five of six to start the season on the road, and the World Cup, and not a lot of practice time – I actually think our game is in a pretty good place, in my mind,” he said after the morning skate. “We obviously have some things still to clean up, but overall I’m not disappointed with how we’re playing. Just got to keep improving.”
The Red Wings, game, though, was a stinker, and an argument can be made that the Sharks should have practiced on Friday. The result against Detroit is obviously exhibit 1A of that. After all, their plane landed in Detroit from Pittsburgh at 12:03 a.m. according to the flight log, giving the players plenty of time to sleep in their hotel beds before the day off. But as he’s almost always done since he took over the Sharks, DeBoer preferred to let his players relax. It was a rare miscalculation.
When they resume practice Monday morning, the power play will likely be a focal point. The Sharks have seemingly given up as many shorthanded chances as they’ve had chances to score themselves while up a man. They are 3-for-20 on the season, including an empty net goal and another on a two-man advantage.
DeBoer, though, indicated he’s going to give that familiar top unit a chance to work out its issues. That’s the right move, as that group simply hasn’t had any time to work together in non-game situations for the reasons already mentioned.
“When you look at the history of the group, I don’t have any doubt they’re going to have success,” DeBoer said. “There’s no doubt it hasn’t started the way we wanted. The puck hasn’t gone in and we’re pressing a little bit now, but that will turn around.”
Along with buttoning up their overall game, the Sharks will now turn to establishing their home ice as an actual advantage this season. At 18-20-3 last year, they had the worst home record of any team that made the playoffs.
Their first game was encouraging in that they played a complete game from start to finish against the Kings, and the atmosphere was decidedly playoff-like. Considering San Jose was a much better 8-4 at home in the playoffs, there’s reason to believe they will be much better there this season in front of a fan base that has some renewed enthusiasm that was lacking this time last year.
When it’s a packed house, SAP Center is still one of the loudest and most intimidating buildings in the league.
“The first game was a little season preview hopefully of what the whole year is going to be like – the crowd, the atmosphere there,” Chris Tierney said. You really saw in the playoffs how cool that building can get and how much of an advantage it can be. Really looking forward to getting back home.”
Logan Couture said: “We haven’t played very well throughout our first six games, so we’ve got to find it here soon.”
Coming home, practicing, and acclimating themselves to a much more normal day-to-day routine again should provide a needed boost.